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Hydrofracked? One Man’s Mystery Leads to a Backlash Against Natural Gas Drilling

When the well water on Louis Meeks’ ranch turned brown and oily, he suspected that the thousands of natural gas wells dotting the once-empty Wyoming landscape were somehow to blame. The hard part was proving it. Meeks’ struggle to get the energy companies to take responsibility, meticulously documented through three years of investigative reporting by ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten, coincides with a national uproar over the oil and gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing. The technology, which is explored in the Oscar-nominated film “Gasland,” promises to open large new energy supplies, perhaps at the expense of the nation’s water.

Louis Meeks’ well water contains methane gas, hydrocarbons, lead and copper, according to the EPA’s test results. When he drilled a new water well, it also showed contaminants. The drilling company EnCana is supplying Meeks with drinking water. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

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There are few things a family needs to survive more than fresh drinking water. And Louis Meeks, a burly, jowled Vietnam War hero who had long ago planted his roots on these sparse eastern Wyoming grasslands, was drilling a new well in search of it.

The drill bit spun, whining against the alluvial mud and rock that folds beneath the Wind River Range foothills. It ploughed to 160 feet, but the water that spurted to the surface smelled foul, like a parking lot puddle drenched in motor oil. It was no better — yet — than the water Meeks needed to replace.

Meeks used to have abundant water on his small alfalfa ranch, a 40-acre plot speckled with apple and plum trees northeast of the Wind River Mountains and about five miles outside the town of Pavillion. For 35 years he drew it clear and sweet from a well just steps from the front door of the plain, eight-room ranch house that he owns with his wife, Donna. Neighbors would stop off the rural dirt road on their way to or from work in the gas fields to fill plastic jugs; the water was better than at their own homes.

But in the spring of 2005, Meeks’ water had turned fetid. His tap ran cloudy, and the water shimmered with rainbow swirls across a filmy top. The scent was sharp, like gasoline. And after 20 minutes — scarcely longer than you’d need to fill a bathtub — the pipes shuttered and popped and ran dry.

Meeks suspected that environmental factors were to blame. He focused on the fact that Pavillion, home of a single four-way stop sign and 174 people, lies smack in the middle of Wyoming’s gas patch. Since the mid 1990’s, more than 1,000 gas wells had been drilled in the region — some 200 of them right around Pavillion — thousands of feet through layers of drinking water and into rock that yields tiny rivulets of trapped gas. The drilling has left abandoned toxic waste pits scattered across the landscape.It has also disturbed the earth itself. One step in the drilling cracks and explodes the earth in a physical assault that breaks up the crust and shakes the gas loose. In that process, called hydraulic fracturing, a brew of chemicals is injected deep into the earth to lubricate the fracturing and work its way into the rock. How far it goes and where it ends up, no one really knows. Meeks wondered if that wasn’t what ruined his well.

Meeks couldn’t have foreseen it when he began raising questions about his water, but hydraulic fracturing was about to revolutionize the global energy industry and herald one of the biggest expansions in U.S. energy exploration in a century. Although the basic technique was developed decades ago, technological advances had made it possible to frack deeply buried rock formations long thought to be inaccessible. That meant a vast stockpile of domestic energy was suddenly available to help loosen the grip of foreign oil on the U.S. economy. It also meant that gas — which burns cleaner than coal — would become a pillar of the government’s campaign to address climate change.

As a result, drilling was about to happen in states not typically known for oil and gas exploration, including Michigan, New York and even Maryland. It would go from rural, sparsely populated outposts like Pavillion to urban areas outside Dallas, Denver and Pittsburgh. Along the way, a string of calamitous accidents and suspicious environmental problems would eventually make hydraulic fracturing so controversial that it would monopolize congressional hearings, draw hundreds in protests and inspire an Academy-Award-nominated documentary produced for Hollywood.

Louis Meeks, unintentionally, would be a part of that fight from the very beginning. His personal fight began with something simple: the energy industry’s insistence that fracturing couldn’t contaminate water.

If the earth were an apple, the argument goes, Meeks’ drinking water was drawn from the thin skin, while the gas drilling happened far deeper, close to the seeded core. The environment is also protected by the meticulous construction of the gas well itself, with layers of cement poured around redundant layers of steel to contain whatever happens inside the pipe and shield the fresh water around it from contamination.

“You’ve got about a mile of rock between the areas you are fracturing and the drinking water,” says Doug Hock, a spokesperson for the U.S. Division of EnCana, which owns several hundred gas wells around Pavillion. With its Canadian division, EnCana is the fifth largest oil company in North America.

Still, the circumstances near Meeks’ property in Pavillion all pointed to drilling.

Three months before his water went bad, EnCana had laid pipe down into a gas well about 500 feet from Meeks’ front door. The well, called Tribal Pavillion 24-2, had “circulation” problems during its construction — meaning that the cement may not have filled all the space between the well and the earth, and that its walls had to be strengthened. EnCana says the problems were minor and had nothing to do with the deterioration of Meeks’ water. “There is no evidence to suggest the well bore integrity was in any way or at any time compromised,” Hock said. But over time Meeks’ water had become undrinkable. His neighbors stopped filling up their bottles with it. Soon they were afraid to touch it.

Meeks started calling state environmental officials, but he got little help. They said his water met national standards, so it was still safe to drink. The taste, they said, was probably from rare iron bacteria that can’t easily be removed.

EnCana vehemently denied responsibility. The company’s engineers explained to Meeks that the layer of natural gas EnCana was mining was some 3,200 feet — more than half a mile — below the bottom of Meeks’ water well. It would be like a drop of poison seeping its way through the granite massif of El Capitan for drilling fluids to wind up in his water. “Activity in the natural gas well did not contaminate the surrounding soil or groundwater,” Hock stated.

In the spring of 2005, however, EnCana began bringing Meeks a tanker full of fresh water each month as a “good neighbor” gesture. A 5,000-gallon cistern full of fresh water was connected via a long black plastic pipe to the plumbing in his home and refilled every month. But EnCana made it clear that the tank was temporary, and Meeks decided he had to drill a new hole from scratch. This one, he decided, would need to be deeper than his old well and a football field’s length further from the gas wells. He paid a contractor $13,000 to drill it, taking the money from his retirement savings. He felt he had no choice. He’d settled on the land intending to spend the rest of his life there.

“It’s a nice little place,” Meeks said. “We raise our own lamb, raise our own beef, eggs, we put a garden in. It’s pretty hard to just start over.”

Meeks was born in Riverton, a ranching and drilling town 26 miles from Pavillion, in 1950. In the spring of 1969, he was stationed with the 34th Engineer Battalion in Vietnam when his base was attacked in the middle of the night. Rockets rained down on the barracks, and a piece of shrapnel sliced through his buttocks and into his gut. He received medals for his service, including the Purple Heart, but he also spent the next two years in hospitals — in Tokyo and then Germany and finally at Fitzsimmons Veterans facility in Denver, where a colostomy reconstructed his intestinal tract. After the Army he came home to Wyoming, where he found day work tying wool for a sheep shearing crew, and then on the drill rigs. He was part of a cementing crew and a workover crew — the team that goes back to an old well and re-stimulates it to get it to produce more oil or gas. But when he complained of stomach pain his VA doctor said he shouldn’t lift more than 25 pounds. “In the oil field you’ve got to lift more than that,” he says, “so they got rid of me.”

Before Meeks retired he learned a thing or two about drilling. He knew that cementing a well was crucial to holding in the gas and contaminants and that sometimes — more often than people liked to say — it failed. After all, there was no way to know for sure that every little crevice and cavern in the earth surrounding a well bore had been completely sealed. The best measure of the strength of that barrier was the circulation process, which works on the assumption that when excess cement comes back up the sides after being pumped down the middle, it has filled everything in between. And that was the very process that EnCana had trouble with on 24-2.

So, there Meeks was on Dec. 19, 2005, watching his contractor drilling deeper, puncturing one layer after another of clay, shale and sandstone bedrock interspersed with overlapping aquifers that trapped fresh water beneath the ground like a giant natural filter. The drill bit hit 340 feet, but the water was still bad. At 440 feet, it wasn’t any better. Geologists say that 30 rock formations containing fresh water may lie beneath Pavillion — layers that supply drinking, irrigation and cattle water for almost all the rural residents in that part of the state. How many of those layers were no longer clean?

At 540 feet the new well still wasn’t drawing water suitable for the cattle trough, and Meeks’ contractor, Louis Dickinson, shut down the engines and brought the drill bit to a rest. But before Dickinson could finish the job, a distant rumbling began echoing from below. It grew steadily louder, like some paranormal force winding its way through the earth. “Then, holy mackerel,” says Meeks, “it just came on us.”

An explosion of white foam and water, chased by a powerful stream of natural gas, shot out of the ground where Meeks had drilled his well. It sprayed 200 feet through the air, nearly blowing the 70-foot-tall drilling derrick off its foundation, crystallizing in the frigid winter air and precipitating into a giant tower of ice.

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Adding insult, the industry continued to suggest that the troubling stories emerging across the country, including from Louis Meeks, are “anecdotal,” implying that no science or investigation has ever verified the contamination as true.

As much as I sympathize with the situation Louis Meeks now finds himself in, this statement is 100% correct. These instances are anecdotal and meet the dictionary definition of anecdotal.

The dearth of hard science on the matter, however, cut both ways.

You may not like the results of the 2004 study because it tends to undercut your story, and you certainly have made it abundantly clear that you don’t like it, but you have never provided one specific criticism of the report’s conclusion or its methodology. So to say there is a “dearth of hard science on the matter” is a load of malarkey.

Just to reiterate, the 428 page report concluded that hydraulic fracturing posed no risk to underground water supplies. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Excellent article.  Well done.  This is certainly a sad situation brought on by the pursuit of profit regardless the costs. 

It also represents the denial of logic by the gas industry. If fracking can break through layers and layers of rock, causing cracks to extend for hundreds of feet if not miles, why then would the process not be capable of creating cracks in concrete containments? 

In addition, given the promise of clean natural gas as a accessible fuel source for the U.S., wouldn’t it be the industry’s best interest to get behind an impartial study to prove the process is environmentally safe?  Of course it would, provided you did not already possess and withhold evidence that it is not safe. 

Through it all the industry is attempting to engage in plausible denial, but in reality it’s simply lying.

You can refer to a nice long report but if the whole report doesnt add up to the conclusion of it, and when you can easely spot faults in it, maybe its best to think for yourself and atleast have some doubts… and as far as i know its one of the few reports about fracturing, which should make you have doubts to begin with…

Fact is that they have found chemicals used in frackling in the drinking water, fact is that very little is known about situations underground (water can be poluted on one location but come to the surface miles further) and fact is that the industry knows that their method of sealing the well is vaugue to say the least (concrete didnt even reach to the level of the lowest groundwater wells) they cannot say they are safe…

What puzzles me is that this has been going on for years, i knew capitalism has gone too far in America, but i never thought the american government was/is so ignorant (or corrupt, depends which way you look at it). Based on the article alone there is enough reason to atleast suspect there might be something fishy about this, and aslong as there is not enough research there can be no conclusions, so its in the best interest of the oil companies to hide as much as possible, paying their lobbyist instead of their researchers.

A big problem in this is that the corporations wont even tell which chemicals they use, and they dont even test the water on those chemicals, so they cannot say its safe either. And claiming the chemicals are a trade secret is quite rediculous in my opinion, because as far as i know all the different companies use them, so if they have nothing to hide amongst one another, what do they have to hide for the citizens of the USA…?

How often do we discover that the FDA has approved a drug that is later found to be unsafe because the manufacturing pharmaceutical company creatively altered or simply completely buried study data that revealed the true nature of the drug?  Or worse, we discover the simply paid someone a giant sum of cash to rubber stamp the approval? 

Why would we believe that big Oil/Gas would behave any differently?

Capitalism reigns supreme in this country.  Corporate profits are regularly funneled to our politicians so they can turn a blind eye/ear and maintain the status quo. 

Humans are arrogant and greedy and refuse to learn from history, or accept that our human activities DO have a direct impact on the state of the planet.  I fear that it won’t be long that the species at the top of the endangered list will be Homo sapien.

I was looking for a comprehensive article about hydraulic fracturing for a long time, and this is it. I like the way the article blend naturally big-picture reporting with personal history. This is journalism at its highest, period.

Is it any wonder MNC’s are running round buying up water resources-

You’ll have no choice once they pollute your aquifer/streams etc.

This is the biggest crime against humanity- and they’re ready soak n’ squeeze you good.

Water is the next resource wars-

Pickens has recently begun buying up subsurface water rights in Texas. CBS News reported in 2006 that Pickens’ company, Mesa Water, bought ground water rights for 200,000 acres (800 km2) in Roberts County, Texas for $75 million, estimating the investment will be worth $1 billion. “‘I know what people say—water’s a lot like air. Do you charge for air? ‘Course not; you shouldn’t charge for water,’ says Pickens. ‘Well, OK, watch what happens. You won’t have any water.’”

Just Positioning

Feb. 25, 2011, 2:12 p.m.

Paraguay’s Acuifero Guarani is the largest fresh water aquifer in South America and is located under 4 entire countries.

If George Bush purchases a large enough ranch that provides him with control over access to the aquifer, he will be a power position to control fresh water rights for more than 200,000 South Americans.

Some ecologists say in the 21st century, fresh water – essential for all life on earth, will be more valuable than oil or gold. So buy controlling access to Acuifero Guarani, Bush will become the South American equivalent of the Saudi royal family.

Don’t blame the fracking ... just the idiots that improperly drilled the vertical well.

Each vertical well should be inspected and approved by state/county inspectors before horizontal drilling commences.  Video footage should be shot of the vertical well during the visual inspection for record retention.  The company drilling the well should pay for this inspection and post a bond.

That said, hiring local in drilling the vertical wells may alleviate substandard care or work since the employees would be from the community as starters.

In the Marcellus Shale area, the vertical wells are at a minimum 5 miles below the water Aquifer - the deepest Aquifer is two miles deep ... so you have at least 7 miles below ground before any horizontal drilling takes place.  Typically it’s seven miles below the aquifer ... the deepest aquifer is 2 miles deep so that places 5-7 miles of hard shale rock between the horizontal bores and the lowest point of an aquifer.

Fracking by explosion does not defy gravity ... and the fluids which are 96% water do not seep upwards into an aquifer through solid rock.  Isaac Newton at work.  Moreover, silica sand is used to fill in fractured shale cracks after pressure is released and the well returns to equilibrium via gravity.

Vertically drilling and encasing is a culprit if not regulated, monitored or inspected.

Lastly, all FRAC water should be treated on-site and not transported by truck to brick and mortar facilities who do not clean the water but just dilute it.  The nasty metals that are a by-product of fracking come from the earth ... not the diesel and other chemical mixes used under pressure to extract the natural gas.  Transporting frac water over highways is dangerous and are highly toxic—barium and strontium are the chief heavy metal contaminants in the frac water.

Water cleaned on-site can be sued as clean brine in additional wells with no need to important additional water or millions n more gallons of water.

Tid Bit:  A golf course in a 24-hour period uses more water than a FRAC pad drilling site uses for it’s useful life over a 5-6 year period.  Environmentalists need to understand this ... more pesticides from golf course watering is hitting the aquifers than a properly executed Frac site.

Susan Meeker-Lowry

Feb. 25, 2011, 2:50 p.m.

Imagine what will happen if/when the water for NYC and other eastern populations becomes contaminated. Imagine what will happen if/when the streams and rivers and lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks are no longer safe for fishing, swimming, & recreating in places where recreation is the economy. Then imagine what happens when the rain and snow that falls is also contaminated with fracking chemicals. Fracking is terrifying and since it can’t be proven safe then it should stop.

I live right in the middle of the Fracking going on in NEPA.
The drilling depths are not 7 miles down and make a 90 degree turn.
The drilling depths here are only between 5—13 thousand feet.
You have all probably heard of Dimock Pa, I live very near there….this fracking process ( which I have researched for over 2 years now ), starts out as a lie to the common landowner…..and continues to be a lie everyday. A very rural area, I have gone out on my own 2 years ago and spoken with my nieghbors on our clay roads here. They told me what the “landmen” them. ” We will be in and out in three weeks…you will only have a small christmas tree like apparatus in your feild, we will restore the whole place to the way it was when we got here, and you will not even know we are here when we work it.”  They also told them that they would ” monitor” the drinking water while they drilled. Of course, being common folk this ” monitoring” by such a large company made them feel really good and confident about their saftey of the drinking water. When I told them that “monitoring” meant that they would occiasonally ( at their schedule ) test the water while drilling….and… if the water became fouled….they would come to the front door and tell them not to drink the water….it’s contaminated. That’s all the monitoring is comprised of. They would have held up their end of the deal….they found it was bad…..monitoring does not mean they will stop drilling or “fix it” if it goes bad. ( there is no fixing it ) Federal regs say they only have to supply you with water for 24 months if they do foul your water. There are over 43 families so far up here who have bad water just in the ONE town of Dimock.  The landmen never told these poor people near me that they would also be drilling 24/7…..it’s what they don’t tell you that hurts us ALL.  These convenient “omissions” of subjects and items is how they hook people into signing leases time after time….with the “possibility” of big money as well.  This industry is the Giant Sized Bernie Madoff of drilling. Trust none of it ! !

This is why we need journalists: to tell the stories. What a travesty.

James Charnley

Feb. 25, 2011, 3:35 p.m.

I can only hope that I have a fraction of the courage of Louis Meeks when it comes time for me to stand up against the industry. The central NY region will soon be under the gun when our current moratorium ends, and it will end. I plead daily with everyone who will listen that we cannot sit idly by and let this rape of the land go unchallenged. Educate yourself and speak up!

Why cant companies be required to include a tracer substance in with their mix?  When ground water is investigated dont they use an isotope to trace the water?  Cant some sort of a marker be assigned to the injectables?

When crime cases are investigated they often start with hunches and anecdotes.  Medical cases can start as syndromes.  Just because there is a lack of scientific evidence doesnt mean something isnt happening.

Susan Meeker-Lowry

Feb. 25, 2011, 3:49 p.m.

Obviously Dave knows a lot about fracking, but it seems that what should happen doesn’t. Regardless of the fracking process (don’t blame the fracking), it’s human beings who do it and humans are notoriously imperfect and we make mistakes all the time for various reasons. Once water is contaminated that’s it, there’s no going back. People who are living with the results of fracking gone bad are the ones that should be listened to, not the industry, not “this is how it should be”. Those contaminants that are in the earth that are released during fracking are just as toxic as those used by the industry. They are where they belong, deep within the earth, and that’s where they should stay.
Golf courses are another issue, and while I don’t golf, I do know that some efforts are being made to address the herbicides used. There’s no reason golfers need to play on grass that doesn’t even look as though it’s real, it’s so perfect. And because golf courses pollute water doesn’t mean it’s okay to pollute it with other means as well. We should be smart enough to understand that clean, fresh water is a finite resource and should be conserved and cared for, not wasted on fracking or golf courses.
Honestly, fracking just breaks my heart. As does so much of what we do to the earth just because we can.

Last night after i got home from work, I had the fortunate opportunity to watch the Oscar nominated documentary by Josh Fox, “GasLand.” Credit must go where credit is due. Josh, I thank you for bringing such a sad truth to light. Mr. Meeks is just one of the multitude Josh interviewed for his story. Anyone who reads this article, reads this comment, do your best to watch the movie, and warn those in the areas where gas drilling is taking place to check their water. Anyone who lives along the gulf coast from Texas to Florida, needs samples taken of the soil, the many hurricanes of the past years have spread the contaminants. The BP disaster pales in comparison.

Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking
Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane
Reservoirs; National Study Final Report

The above title is from the 2004 EPA study and report - Coalbed Methane (CBM) is a LOT different than the “tight sands” gas or the shale gas for which much of the fracking is done - like Louis Meeks’s situation.

Why this report passes as irrefutable evidence is beyond me.

unreceivedogma

Feb. 25, 2011, 4:08 p.m.

RE DAVE’S COMMENT: “Fracking by explosion does not defy gravity ... and the fluids which are 96% water do not seep upwards into an aquifer through solid rock.  Isaac Newton at work.”

The fluids will follow the path of least resistance. Eg:

Soak a sponge with water. Then hold it centered in your hand. Now squeeze it. According to your theory, all the water will fall from the bottom of your hand, not from between your fingers, or over the top.

I’d like to see that.

unreceivedogma

Feb. 25, 2011, 4:13 p.m.

Dave also assumes that gravity is the only force at work on “the path of least resistance”. There are thermodynamic and other factors at work.

@Quintin: I saw Gasland too. It’s really an incredible documentary and I hope it is recognized Sunday for an Academy Award because it will bring a lot of attention to this issue. But I’ve also been reading stories about gas drilling on this website since 2008, long before Josh Fox filmed Gasland. ProPublica mentions Pavillion’s water contamination in an article in November that year, and if you look through the articles you’ll see one about just about every single one of the people filmed in Gasland. I read about them here first. Credit where credit is due indeed.

Over the years I have seen things of this in real life. Check out the Waddel-Blank Gulf oil leases in West Texas from the 60`s and before, I worked there.
The oil indusrty will never change as long as the demand for the product is in every facet of everyday life.

Good riddance to the badly mismanaged ‘00’s.

Those thinking about long-term recovery, know the environment will be a big winner in the conversion to biofuels & biopower.

- Balkingpoints / www

Thank you for such a well written report.  Focusing on one individual gave it heart. 

We are just coming out of a prime example of undue risk taking in finance… where the consequence of a process is so great that we shouldn’t do it.  I feel the same about Fracking.  It carries too great of a risk.

The biggest anecdote of all is the story the gas industry tells about the efficacy of their well casings and the layers of rock that, in theory, are supposed to keep the fracking fluid and other contaminants separate from the drinking water. This theory of theirs may sound good, it may look great on paper, but there are a lot of theories that sound good and look great on paper until researchers take a close and careful look at what is actually going on out in the real world.

Somehow, water in drilling areas is being contaminated. So the question is, where are the independent, non-gas-industry-funded studies on how fracking fluid, methane gas, and other potential water well contaminants actually behave in the real world in coalbed methane formations, shale formations, and any other formations that are or may be drilled and fracked? Where are the statistics on well casing failures? Where are the statistics on the expected lifetime of the casings? Where are the data describing how the casings hold up after a gas well has been repeatedly fracked? Where are the seismic studies? Where are the in-depth, scientific studies of the areas that have already suffered contamination? Sadly, some communities (like Pavilion, WY and Dimock, PA) have already been treated as if they were labs and their people were lab animals; wouldn’t it make sense to send teams of researchers to those communities to figure out what happened before the same mistakes are made over and over and over again? I know the EPA is studying this issue, but unless the budget for their study is increased significantly, they are probably going to barely scratch the surface of this complex issue. If the contamination wasn’t caused by gas drilling, then what was it caused by? Whatever the answer is, we should know it, and we should know it before any more drilling takes place.

The order of operations should be to do the research first, and then decide if drilling with current technology is safe. Instead, the gas industry’s approach seems to be to drill away, and then if bad things happen, to simply deny any responsibility. I suppose they operate that way because they imagine, perhaps correctly, that in the end it will be the residents of drilling areas and all of the taxpayers of this nation who will bear the human and financial costs of the gas industry’s errors.

Brillian writing, great article.  God bless Louis Meeks, and thanks to Abrahm Lustgarten. 

As to Mike H. and his comment about the 2004 EPA report, the article gives clear examples that show how the summary conclusions are politcal statements, which are contradicted within the body of the report, itself.  No one, but industry and the gas apologists, find it credible.  There are no studies that have been fully completed.  The Pavillion EPA study, seems to be the first.  It is local, specific, and it has its hands tied, by the lack of transparency of the frac’ing companies, who refuse to give the EPA the list of chemicals used in the area.

Dave’s comment is riddled with bizarre information.  As someone subsequently pointed out, his 2 mile, 5 mile and 7 mile references are
so far off the mark, it should make everyone just skip to the next comment.  Then to follow it with the reference to gravity?  Underground, gravity is countered by pressure.  Gas, and fluid, will be pushed upwards because the lower one progresses into the earth, the greater the pressure and heat.  Gas and fluid are forced from higher, to lower pressure, the least of which will be at the surface.  If there is a pathway, whether naturally occuring fracture, or the man made borehole, it will rise as far as the opening.

nissim sasson

Feb. 25, 2011, 7:09 p.m.

Natural gas corporations lobby, so they don’t have to be oversight by the Clean Water Act. so there is your answer

There is also something out there that not many people know of, and it can be used as a huge deterrent against people signing more leases or to use against those who have already. It’s called ” Anticipitory Nuisance” it’s a very large part of real estate law in the USA. Basically it dictates that because of this law, you as a land or homeowner, have the basic right to peace and quite….clean air….clean water. If someone does anything to endanger these rights ( say by signing a lease for drilling ), you can legally sue them for said endangerment. There does not need to be drilling….or any activity going on at all…..just the possibility of those rights being compromised is enough
to sue.
  Check it out in the Huffington Post site or go directly to any Real Estate agent and ask them…..they must tell this if they are aware of it.
  As long as you own property or a home, you have these rights automatically through ownership. I would also like to tell everyone here….the best thing you can do is form a small, determined group. This group WILL grow as people realize they are not alone in this fight…..this is a big factor in how the Gas Industry intimidates people into signing on. I am in a group that started out with about 7 people in a persons basement…..we are now over 300 strong and have public meetings….we have prevented a compressor station from being installed next to a local school…..we have signed succsessful appeals against permits for more drillling….we have educated so many people it would amaze you all.  It took a LOT of patience….time ....effort…but most of all .....we never gave up.  We have only been doing this as a group for one year almost to the day…..some like myself were involved for at least a year prior in this issue. As I stated before….vigilant effort….not worrying about a few setbacks….twp’s and local ordinances got changed as we went along.  Sit and worry….or stand and be active….we got active.  Find us at http://www.GDACoalition.org  We will not turn anyone away who asks for help in getting started. It is not impossible….or insurmountable… although others will say you can’t fight this, You NEED to do this. Or be “Fracked”. We did it….so can you !

Susan Meeker-Lowry

Feb. 25, 2011, 7:20 p.m.

Mark, absolutely - what looks good on paper often turns out not to look good in reality. Look at what happened this past spring/summer in the Gulf. It all looked good on paper, but we had gotten in way over our heads thinking our technology was essentially foolproof. We are in unchartered territory when we’re drilling so deep into the earth, either in the ocean or not. We’re experimenting and hoping it all turns out okay. But it’s not. And at this point we should be willing to acknowledge we’re blowing it, admit wrong/harm as been done and stop. Everything boils down to money. If this doesn’t change, we’re doomed.

bob Westbrook

Feb. 25, 2011, 7:58 p.m.

Out here in West Texas we’re smack dab in the middle of oil country. Inherited my grandmothers farm and am working to build a place. Am a disabled Viet vet too without lots of resources so definitely relate with Meeks. They’re drilling oil wells all around like crazy and salt water is a big part of that process. Our well water salinity has increased by ten times (not ten percent but times ten) over the last five years, and that poisons the soil making it impossible to grow through irrigation. We’re in the desert and there’s been no rain for five months so that makes it tough. I’m just starting the process of stirring things up to see why the sudden increase in salt. Can’t afford tests to see what else is in the water. Found this article informative but wonder now what I face as I try to build a dream

sadly, this is the case with the largest percentage of water wells.  global warning is a joke to the republicans especially, and the dumocraps behind the scenes.  they don’t have to live with it for now.  We know of countless major conflicts with america and the ecosystem they seem to think doesn’t exist.  but….......these ecosystems don’t pay them as do the lobbyist for congress and the REAL leaders, corporations and investment banks.

Mike H.
I wonder how secure you (And your Family) would be drinking water from a well located on my Park County Colorado property for the next couple of decades or more. It is located in a remote area near Hartsel Colorado. The area is currently being prepared for hundreds of gas wells where a 100% “Fracking” method will be used by the El Paso Corporation in extracting natural gas.  It would be nice to tell you to put your money where your mouth is but I am pretty sure you would not be willing to take me up on my offer. I guess my Family and I will just have to function as the lab rats in order to see if your 2004 report had been accurately composed….or not.

By the way if anyone cares, I am a ultra conservative individual that is not blindly “One sided” when it comes to the basic responsibility of taking care of our fellow human beings.

Thomas F. Altman

Feb. 25, 2011, 11:31 p.m.

—I hear constantly that the good wells are not the problem.
How many can we prove are good ones?  What will the one near your water be?
—I know water is the most precious resource on earth, next to air.
—We have more than enough proven oil reserves to satisfiy our needs for energy, but we cannot drill for them, but we are running madly to drill to make this a frac nation.  Am I the only one who smells BS?  I have been around more than a few cattle, and knw very well what it smells like.

Shelley Ottenbrite

Feb. 26, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Look what Philadelphia did in response to Pennsylvania fracking—changed their constitution to recognize the rights of nature and not to recognize corporations as people.  Hope we can all do that for our communities.

I too think this is a very good report, very well balanced with its information…

Mr. Lustgarten should be applauded for such fine work…

Now I look at the inane whining by some who’ve already posted their comments…

Thankfully there’s commenters like Mary Sweeny… Intelligent, thoughtful comments asking the right sort of questions…

Regardless of the wild eyed rantings by tree huggers and root kisser we as a nation and as individuals are ABSOLUTELY DEPENDENT on hydrocarbon energy sources for such a wide variety goods and services that ANY attempt to wean ourselves from it is merely crazy talk…

Having said that though we as consumers have to face the fact that we absolutely need clean water and the hydrocarbon energy sources…

How much more are we (both as individuals and as a nation) willing to pay for both continued clean water and energy?

Better engineering to retrieve hydrocarbon energy will be expensive initially, maybe very expensive but what are the alternatives?

Forget the pie in the sky of renewables, the basic physics of that wide, wet dream aren’t on our side right now…

So how much more are willing to pay?

Susan Meeker-Lowry

Feb. 26, 2011, 10:11 a.m.

I haven’t read any postings here that I would say are “wild eyed ravings by tree huggers or root kissers”. Rather they are by people who are deeply concerned, if not personally impacted, or actually personally impacted by irresponsible corporate behavior and lack of power to force corporate and government responsibility in the face of obvious harm done. Why should “we” have to pay for clean water when “we” had clean water before the gas companies decided to frack their way to billions at the expense of the environment and innocent people? Why aren’t the corporations held responsible? Why is it okay for a billion dollar, probably trillion dollar, company to do whatever it wants, pollute water, destroy lives and livelihoods, with virtually no oversight whatsoever, then essentially walk away because nothing can be proven without a doubt? Because what happens to actual human beings and ecosystems is considered just anecdotal, not scientific enough?

Weaning ourselves from hydrocarbons may be crazy talk, but it’s also crazy talk to think that we can long survive without clean water, without food grown in nontoxic soil, etc. So what is it going to be? Do we pollute ourselves to death or do we figure out a way to wean ourselves off hydrocarbons for virtually everything? We can’t have it both ways. The earth is finite. Clean water is finite. And even hydrocarbons are finite. We are, right now, between that proverbial rock and hard place. And we can fight and argue all we want about which way to turn, but fact is, eventually the choice will be made for us. For me, I’d like the opportunity to do a bit it weaning, and I know that hard as it may seem, it can be done. Certainly we don’t have to continue destroying aquifers and ecosystems willy-nilly. It’s way beyond time to pull back a bit, take stock of where we can conserve, what we can change in our country’s (and world’s) agricultural, transportation, energy & electricity systems. We can stop thinking that everything has to be so BIG. We can look to creating and rebuilding local and regional networks for food, transportation, energy. We can plug the leaks, build more efficient vehicles, public transport, rail. We can decide we don’t need so much extraneous STUFF. If we do these things first, we will discover that our hydrocarbon appetites will have dropped, probably dramatically. We need to expect more of ourselves and others, and we need to stop pandering to those who simply exist to exploit and fatten themselves at everyone else’s, and the earth’s, expense. It is possible. Unlikely, but possible.

At every point his water tested OK… so, that’s a serious problem.
And this guy is quite all alone.
The message here is pick your battles.  Don’t get into battles you cannot win.  Or be prepared to do whatever it takes makes to communicate your pain.

Susan Meeker-Lowry

Feb. 26, 2011, 11:58 a.m.

gberke, I assume you’re referring to Meeks. But his water didn’t test okay when they ran the right tests on it. So all along it was contaminated, just like he knew. Thing is, what should he have done differently? He couldn’t sell. No one would have bought the place with bad tasting, smelling water even if it did test okay at that point. Give up and accept his fate? He did whatever it took, for years, and he ended up losing pretty much everything - the value of his home, his savings, his health and his wife’s health. This should not be happening in this country. There needs to be protection from such wanton destruction. It should not fall on one person/family to fight a huge corporation and gov’t agencies that won’t listen.

Excellent article and good post. I live in Weld County Colorado, Fracking central. On February 19th Be The Change (http://www.BTC-USA.org) sponsored a presentation by Wes Wilson who is was an EPA whistle blower on this subject; Wes blew the whistle to Congress before he retired because of the 2004 EPA report and Dick Chaney’s ability to kill the then proposed oversight of Fracking, why, because as a geologist he was and is concerned. His presentation was very eye-opening about geology and the fracking process, with a lot of emphasis on the cementing practices and local laws on how deep they must cement. Unfortunately the cementing practice in Colorado is based on the depth of local water wells (very local)?.
Seems that requiring the testing of ‘local’ water wells before drilling is an obvious practice, Would appear that better cementing practices must be placed into law as well as better testing and inspection of these processes. In Colorado less than 2% of our employment comes from the oil and gas industry. Yet industry threatens job loss when every an issue is raised. Yes, inexpensive energy is important to fuel the rest of our industries (jobs) and homes. However, water, especially in the Western US, is much more precious than a few decades of gas and oil production. A little more expense on the side of caution and quality is not too much to ask. As the current stewards of this land we need to ask ourselves what we are going to leave for our our children and their children.

Herb Alexander

Feb. 26, 2011, 12:58 p.m.

It is always better to ere on the side of caution.  Most of these problems can’t be fixed, the damage could be forever.  We can do without a lot of things, but clean water is not one of them.  I’ll take Mr Meek’s word before i’ll listen to th e"Liar from the gas company”.  Best of luck Mr.Meeks

S M-L:
It was a no win… I don’t know how he could have managed, but he couldn’t win.  What if he knew at the outset for certain he would lose?  Could he have come out better?
Situation up here in Woodstock, NY: over run from a gas station absolutely polluted the people’s wells: the gasses from the water would burn.  Took years plus state work, and even then it couldn’t be fixed… they got compensated and moved away. Took years.
So, if you can’t win, what can you still do that is best for you, the worst for them…
Then, too, we are fighting against corporations which for all practical purposes are immortal and alien creations.
Yeah, and it is a terrible shame! 
There may be a time when such people can post their problems to the net, and the world of people can contribute a dollar here, a dollar there, and make them whole.

S M-L:
It was a no win… I don’t know how he could have managed, but he couldn’t win.  What if he knew at the outset for certain he would lose?  Could he have come out better?
Situation up here in where I live: over run from a gas station absolutely polluted the people’s wells: the gasses from the water would burn.  Took years plus state work, and even then it couldn’t be fixed… they got compensated and moved away. Took years.
So, if you can’t win, what can you still do that is best for you, the worst for them…
Then, too, we are fighting against corporations which for all practical purposes are immortal and alien creations.
Yeah, and it is a terrible shame! 
There may be a time when such people can post their problems to the net, and the world of people can contribute a dollar here, a dollar there, and make them whole.

wolfgang moxart

Feb. 26, 2011, 2:09 p.m.

The people like MH who claim the evidence is anecdotal are fuck’n idiots.The EPA also known as the Economic Prostitution Ass. is a nutless monkey whoring themselves before the alter of greed. These are the same ashholes who claimed there was no evidence smoking was addictive. Wake the fuck up morons start denying the Corp. access to these area by the proven methods used by our armed forces “area denial devices work” Mr. Meeks is a hero for both his dedication to his country’s service to a (unnecessary police action) and for demanding his right to clear air and clean water be protected from chemical warfare by people pumping poison chemicals into the ground.The Meeks will not inherit the earth Dedicated resistors will. God Help US

Mike H is an idiot

Feb. 26, 2011, 2:50 p.m.

Mike H., you can sit in a chair thousands of miles away and lob your duumbshit opinions but that doesn’t change the fact that where fracturing occurs, water sources are destroyed.  What we really need to do is bring the fight to the doorsteps of the people running the companies and idiots like Mike H…literally.  It’s time to take a stand people.  Lawsuits will do nothing but exhaust your finances.  Our only choice that remains is to arm yourselves and take a stand for yoour rights.

What is truly anecdotal is gas industry expertise as to what is going on below 20 feet as no one has ever been down there to examine how well a well casing really works.  They simply know that they expect X gallons +/- Y gallons of cement to fill the gaps between the bore hole and the steel casings they drop down the hole.  They can only guess what happens when more or less concrete is pumped in before it shows back up at the top of the well.  Non-gas industry research is definitely required.  Gas industry researchers know how their bread is buttered and will dismiss an unusual findings as “insignificant” or not look where they know the damning evidence is.  The Bush administration allowed the environmental raping of America and the Obama Administration is moving way to slow to right the wrongs.  Invest in desalinization companies cause it looks like we are going to need them soon nationwide.

This is one of the sloppiest written articles, poorly documented, spun up articles on any subject I’ve read in a very long time.  The author is a disgrace to journalism.  The next time I get a whine for wampum from Propublica, I am going to factor in this goofball into the equation.

One can look at the underlying process involved.  On one side there are some people, employed, strongly motivated by incentives which can fairly quickly seen.  The motivated people are not constrained to the particular location, but can be compensated for their work or investment from a great distance.  By their nature, they cooperate, they exchange information.
On the other side is people who may be few in number, loosely connected, otherwise occupied who may not see any significant difference, may not see a difference for some time, and if an when they do, their thoughts may surely be biased by there being something to blame… when you can’t find your shirt after some other people have been in your closet, who’s to blame?
Even when you have regulators, and boy oh boy are they ever important, but you know they can be targeted and hurt and they don’t have the same motivation that somebody else trying to get to a pile of riches has.
Where a land is loosely populated, a lot of money can flow into coffers against some serious damage to the aquifer but that is a the tree falling in the forest with on one to hear.  Where the land is well populated, it still may be poorly coordinated, and the damage perceived is more widespread but then there are still many investors and workers still very very much involved. 
It’s a bit like a gold rush: it’s likely you’ll get trampled.
Your odds of success are increased, clearly, if you have a coherent and connected set of partners… a neighborhood group, and especially one that can act quickly.
What will matter is whether or not you know your neighbors, talk with your neighbors, are at least loosely connected when the crap comes down on you.  You can, and in general, should be working toward that possibility all the time, indeed, right now, every day. 
If you can’t do that, if that’s not the kind of neighborhood you are in, if you are not that kind of neighbor, if your neighbors aren’t that kind of neighbor, yeah… that’s probably most of us, and where most of us are going to get in trouble when the big boys make a move on us.
And some of us, sitting on a pile of gas, we’re gonna get very very rich and move away…
“Winning” might not be a possibility.  Societies needs can totally trump yours.  But you remain free… you remain free to act in your own best interests, be informed, offer support and if necessary, get out of the way.

Bonnie Weller

Feb. 26, 2011, 4:36 p.m.

Thank you so much for your in-depth but concise article.  It’s wonderful that your journalists dig as deeply and as well as they do.  Now, what do we do?

Get out out of the way ? ! ! ?  Don’t come up near Northeast Pa.
We don’t “get out of the way”  We fight to keep what was earned for us by people like Louis Meeks. There is no ” get out of the way” where I live. I guess we should look away as strangers rape our children too.

  I’ll fight this until they bury me…..but I’ll NEVER get out of the way.

bob Westbrook

Feb. 26, 2011, 5:56 p.m.

Del - I’m well read, educated, and keep up with current events. To hear you say this is a sloppy, poorly documented, and “spun” article tells me you are just a petroleum industry peon who’s job is to do what you can to negate any negative publicity regarding the industry. Truth is people’s lives are lost, damaged, and hurt through the selfish corporate greed that cares more for the dollar than the future. So, to sum that up, your an idiot.

good for you, John N

Very good call, bob W.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Fracking

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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